Picture the scene. It’s 3 a.m.
You can barely keep your eyes open. The only thing that’s keeping you awake is coffee, adrenalin, and the high-pitched hum of the fluorescent light hanging above your head. Sweat and the lingering smell of cold pizza stings your nostrils, as you continue hammering on your computer, fervently trying to fix this bug before the clock hits midday.
It sounds deeply unpleasant, doesn’t it? You may be surprised to hear that some people put themselves through that ordeal — out of their own choice.
They’re called hackathons. And the way they work is like this — a number of computer programmers lock themselves in a room, and commit themselves to building something before a deadline. They’re kept awake, force-fed coffee and pizza, and made to code like they’ve never coded before.
At the end of it, the best teams win prizes. These range from computer hardware, to cash. The best competitors get poached by talent-hungry tech companies, like Facebook and Google. All in all, they’re great opportunities to get real-life, practical coding experience, and to potentially find employment.
Convinced? I thought so. Here are 8 sites you can use to find the next “Hackathon” in your area.
DevPost (formerly ChallengePost)
First, let’s take a look at DevPost. Founded in 2009 and formerly called ChallengePost, this site is pretty much the Yellow Pages of hackathons, and so much more.
DevPost market themselves as “the home for hackers”, and that’s not an understatement. Not only can you use it to find hackathons happening in your area, but it also acts as a rudimentary social network, allowing you to meet and interact with your computer science peers.
With DevPost, you can also build yourself a portfolio, and show off your achievements to the rest of the world. To save time, you can even import them straight from GitHub. Fellow DevPost users can comment upon and like your work, and provide guidance.
What makes a good hackathon site? Is it a solid, comprehensive directory of events happening around the world? Is it an attention to detail, and information about prizes, judging criteria, and registration? Or is it all the above?
I think so. Consequently, I was really impressed with Hackathon.io, which has all of this and more.
Hackathons advertised on Hackathon.io have their own profiles, which show vital information about the event. From everything to rules, to schedules, to how to contact the organizers. It has everything you could possibly need to find your next coding challenge.
WhatTheHack.io [No Longer Available]
From Singapore, we have WhatTheHack.io, which launched earlier this year. At the core of this site is a hackathon directory that shows an impressive list of events taking place in Europe, Asia, North America, and Australia.
Accompanying that is a YouTube video podcast, hosted by the Singaporean founders of the site. So far, they’ve released two, sound-effect laden episodes. This, they say, aims to show the lighter side of hackathons and inspire viewers to build great things.
I’d give it a miss though. The episodes are too short, and too focused, and the chemistry between the hosts is non-existent, resulting in some pretty stilted, awkward viewing. But while the podcast leaves a lot to be desired, WhatTheHack.io is a perfectly adequate hackathon directory.
Not all hackathons are held in conference rooms and cafes. A great many are held online, which is precisely what HackerRank specializes in.
HackerRank.com boasts itself on having one of the largest user bases of any developer-oriented site, with almost 900 thousand registered developers all competing against each other in a digital Hunger Games.
Aside from taking part in contests, users can also flex their coding muscles with computer science challenges. These test everything from functional programming skills, to algorithms and mathematics.
Success with HackerRank could potentially lead to a job, as each user has a public profile, and they’re nurturing relationships with a number of major technology companies, like virtualization giant VMWare, and travel tech company Sabre.
Run Your Own Hackathons with HackerLeague and WeHack.It
We’ve looked at a lot of sites here. Each promises an easy gateway to hackathons happening around the world. But what if you’ve got a hackathon you want to advertise and manage? In this case, there are sites you might want to consider looking into.
There’s HackerLeague.org, for example. This site lets you create, manage, and market hackathons. It even allows you to create your own custom, branded pages that inform participants and journalists about your hackathon.
There’s also WeHack.it. Predictably, this site offers a list of hackathons occurring worldwide, albeit with a smaller selection compared to others we’ve looked at. But it also comes with a compelling suite of tools for hackathon organizers to run, control and manage their event.
Meetup.com is a popular, online social network that’s heavily focused around meeting people in the flesh — away from keyboards. There are Meetup groups for a variety of interests, ranging from music, to languages, to art. But did you know that people also use it to market their hackathons?
It’s true. Just head to meetup.com, input your location, and search for “hackathon”. You’ll then find a number of events happening in your area.
One of the amazing things about Reddit is that there’s a subreddit for everything — from fitness, to comic books and random acts of generosity. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s also a hackathon subreddit.
With just over 300 subscribers, /r/hackathon/ isn’t the most popular subreddit in the world. But whilst it doesn’t have the most users, it is still incredibly active. With regular submissions and advertisements of upcoming events, it’s definitely one worth subscribing to.
What Are You Waiting For?
If you’re hoping to start a career in software development, choosing the right language is only the first step. You need regular, practical experience, and hackathons are a great way to get that.
So, what are you waiting for? Drink some Java, brush up on your CoffeeScript, and sign up to the next event happening near you.
Ever taken part in a hackathon? Got any stories to share? I want to hear them. Drop me a comment below, and we’ll chat.